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Bridging the generational gap


Better understanding age diversity in British society

By Professor Martin Hyde


In recent years, there has been a growing concern that British society is becoming increasingly divided along generational lines. This division is believed to have negative social consequences, including rising levels of loneliness and social isolation. To shed light on this issue, various studies have examined age segregation in the UK's cities and neighbourhoods. What they found is both revealing and concerning.


The Changing Face of Residential Age Segregation

In 2016, the Intergenerational Foundation conducted a comprehensive analysis of age segregation in the UK's 25 largest cities. Their findings were eye-opening. In 1991, 15% of people living in the same neighborhood as someone under the age of 18 were aged over 65. However, by 2014, this figure had plummeted to a mere 5%. A similar pattern of spatial polarization between older and younger age groups was observed in neighborhoods across England and Wales between 1991 and 2011 by Sabater, Graham, and Finney.


Moreover, age segregation is not limited to urban areas. Research from the Centre for Towns revealed that between 1981 and 2011, three-quarters of the increase in the 45-64 and over-65 age groups occurred in villages, communities, and small to medium-sized towns, while 80% of the growth in the 25-44 age group took place in larger towns and core cities. This means that the UK is grappling with both micro-level age segregation within its cities and macro-level age segregation between urban and rural areas.


These studies offer valuable insights into the issue of age segregation in the UK. However, there are still some important unknowns that must be addressed to fully comprehend the phenomenon and its implications. To do so, we need a more comprehensive and nuanced approach.


Introducing the Area Level Index of Age Diversity (ALIAD)

The measure of residential age segregation used by previous studies, i.e. the dissimilarity index, only compares the distribution of two age groups—typically younger people versus older people. While this provides some insight, it has limitations. It ignores everyone who falls outside these specific age groups, overlooking the significance of relationships between those in middle age, for example.


Additionally, the choice of age group cut-off points in these studies can be somewhat arbitrary, making comparisons across studies challenging. In our review of the literature, we identified 4 different ways in which residential age segregation is measured: i) under 14 years v. 65 years and over, ii) under 18 years v. 65 years and over, iii) 20-34 years v. 60 years and over, and, iv) 25 to 40 years v. 65 years and over.

To address these limitations and provide a more comprehensive understanding of age diversity, a new approach is needed. This is where the Area Level Index of Age Diversity (ALIAD) comes into play.


Understanding the ALIAD

The ALIAD aims to improve upon previous age-segregation measures by using information from all age groups. It is based on Simpson's Index of Diversity, a commonly used ecological measure to quantify biodiversity. It considers both richness (the number of species) and evenness (the abundance of each species) within an environment. In our context, it represents the probability that two randomly selected individuals in an area will belong to different age groups.


To create ALIAD we used data mid-year population estimates from the Office for National Statistics (for England and Wales), Statistics Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics Agency to get a comprehensive picture for the whole of the UK. These data are collected for each neighbourhood in the UK.


After several experiments we discovered that the optimal and most meaningful age groups to use to create ALIAD were 0-15 years, 16-39 years, 40-64 years and 65 years and over. From this we computed an age diversity score for over 40,000 neighbourhoods in the country. In the next blog we’ll explore the map of age diversity across the UK.


Conclusion

As British society grapples with increasing age segregation and its associated social consequences, it is essential to have a more nuanced understanding of this phenomenon. The Area Level Index of Age Diversity (ALIAD) promises to shed new light on the issue by considering the diversity of age groups within communities, not just the generational divides. With this innovative tool, policymakers and researchers can make informed decisions to bridge the generational gap and create a more inclusive and harmonious society for all age groups.


January 2024

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